IT certifications report card: What are they worth now? Which ones pay off the most?

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Start off the school year with a fresh look at this IT career workhorse to upgrade your marketable skills and earning potential.

Are a few extra letters on one's CV and LinkedIn profile really worth the cost in time, effort and dollars, when the big demand for information technology professionals shows no sign of retreating?

The case for certifications is still very strong, judging by the pace of new certification introductions alone. Equally persuasive are ongoing labor shortages in technology and the pressure facing recruiters, human resource departments and IT hiring managers to quickly fill these increasingly critical positions with qualified, fully trained applicants.

Unique keywords such as CompTIA, MCSE, CISSP and PMP -- all indicators of popular IT certifications or certification bodies themselves -- serve as a proven means to filter candidates in technology's highly competitive environment. (That's also something to keep in mind if the next economic downturn hits IT as hard as it will other occupations.)

Bolstering this argument is the comprehensive, substantive and credible research from sources like established IT search firms on the higher wages typically granted to those with advanced certifications.

To help you chart your ongoing education wisely, here's a full review of today's most rewarding IT certification areas, based on the trends driving the value of the knowledge and competencies they impart. These are: mobile application development, IT networking and security, HTML5 programming, project management certification and CRM software expertise.

A list of key features you'll want in the kind of instruction you'll receive (versus the courseware's content) will finish up this two-part series.

So much power, so small a device

For a winning bet on technology's future, remember the word "convenience."

Someone, somewhere on earth, is about to buy the 2 billionth smartphone, if they haven't already. (To put that that statement in perspective, there are 1 billion cars on the road.)

Just as previous time- and labor-saving breakthroughs have done, our wireless lifestyles have totally reshaped the workplace. Most companies now provide mobile devices to their employees; those that still don't have implemented a "bring your own device" (BYOD) approach.

Mobility is so beneficial to productivity, it's hard to imagine any healthy, viable organization without it. All aspects of smartphone functionality -- from setup, administration and software development to security -- have an applicable certification added in.

Although Apple's first iPhone left consumers everywhere instantly smitten, the landscape is constantly changing. Worthy rivals, like Android and more recently Microsoft's Windows 8 (now Windows 10) platform, have emerged and, in Android's case, surpassed iOS, proving the market is very dynamic and unpredictable.

Expect organizations to ramp up their mobile app development capabilities, especially in support of two important tasks: faster data analysis and customizing mobile versions of third-party business software mainstays like customer relationship management (CRM). There will be a corresponding demand for training and certifications to validate the relevant skills of mobile app developers. Certifications will also be developed to deal with a variety of other issues related to mobile devices and apps, such as architecting a secured wireless environment.

Stop, cyberthief!

That last item evokes the unsettling, omnipresent vulnerability of our presence in cyberspace. It also demonstrates one reason why security wins the IT certification sweepstakes once again and will likely hold onto that top spot for years to come.

Black-hat hackers prowling for unauthorized access to our intranets and all those databases and processing services we've moved to the cloud have, like a tech-savvy Willie Sutton, followed the money to our wireless networks and straight toward our bank accounts.

Victims of mobile phone malware heists, along with their fellow customers, friends and families, will easily make the connection between protecting their assets and financial services companies with cutting-edge security know-how.

Meanwhile, there's been no holiday from what are now more traditional forms of cyberattacks, the denial-of-service and dangerous breaches of site security, or from cyberwarfare. Instead, these threats have grown in scope and sophistication.

Consequently, many banks, online stores, credit card clearinghouses, medical treatment centers and government agencies -- anywhere there's a valuable database to be sold or held for ransom -- offer six-figure salaries to those with an IT security certification. IT workers in a growing number of government, military and civilian security posts are required to maintain their certifications. Anticipate additional security certifications to be developed as hackers' relentless assaults escalate.

Next up: the world according to HTML5, followed by a virtual tour of the C-suite.

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